Many people use service dogs for physical or emotional support. But what about dogs who need extra help because they're suffering from severe anxiety, a lack of social skills or physical disability, such as blindness? Service dogs for dogs play a huge role in helping them navigate their worlds. Without the extra help, dogs with special needs may struggle to find their way. Here are two stories of animals helping animals.
Chama and Cardinal
"Chama is a cattle dog mix that came to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary less than a year ago after he started having issues with the children in his home," says Julie Tasch, Dogtown manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. "He went into group housing with a couple of dogs, one of which was named Cardinal. Cardinal is a golden retriever mix that arrived a little bit before Chama and was completely feral. Cardinal had zero leash skills, wouldn't get in a car, and was terrified of people, but he loved other dogs."
But that didn't mean he was a lost cause. "Chama started out as a great role model for Cardinal because he loved walks, car rides, and people," says Tasch. Caregivers first took Cardinal in, and when his pal Chama moved in too, "Cardinal loved Chama so much he was willing to push himself if Chama was around."
After some time, caregivers brought Cardinal and Chama to their agility area, called Tara's Run, to teach Cardinal the joys of exploring the world on a leash.
"Chama walked on leash with one of us like a champ, so we began with a cable leash for Cardinal and allowed him to go and move however he chose," says Tasch. "Tara's Run is a great place because, if at any time, Cardinal became over threshold [too stressed to safely continue], we could drop the leash and he would still be in an enclosed area. Cardinal saw Chama walking on leash and started to realize that it was actually a fun thing and not meant to be scary."
Emotional service dogs for dogs are just as important as physical therapy dogs. Without Chama, Cardinal may have never developed the skills he needed to be comfortable in a home and continue to grow emotionally. Tasch says, "We practiced for a couple of weeks and then finally together. We walked Chama and Cardinal on the trail, and it was like magic. Cardinal was so happy to be in a new place doing something fun with his best friend."
Recently, a couple went to Dogtown looking to adopt Chama. Tasch says, "He was the first and only dog they wanted to meet. They fell so in love they asked if he had any run mates and we said yes, Cardinal. Cardinal, of course, didn't approach the adopters right away, but slowly worked his way closer and did take treats from them by the end. They understood he was shy and would take time and work in order to make progress in a home. The adopters were so in love they adopted both Chama and Cardinal together!"
Chaplin and Cordelia
Friendships are just as important in the canine world as they are in the human world — and animals don't need any assistance when it comes to choosing their own friends. In fact, another pet pair from Dogtown also acts as emotional support dogs for dogs, with Chaplin taking the reins. Tasch says, "Chaplin wasn't specifically encouraged to assist Cordelia, just encouraged to be himself and do whatever he wanted, and this confidence and support rubbed off on Cordelia."
Due to their relationship, Cordelia is more confident and independent than she would have been without Chaplin in her life. In fact, they're such a pair that they're practically exclusive friends. Tasch says, "These two live alone together, so other dogs aren't really involved in their relationship."
She continues, "Chaplin's confidence in going for golf cart rides and car rides has led Cordelia to jumping right up into cars and enjoying golf cart rides — as long as Chaplin is with her!"
This was a massive change for Cordelia. "Years of going on walks with Chaplin walked by a caregiver and Cordelia walked by a volunteer has helped Cordelia gain the confidence to walk with volunteers alone and be engaging with them while doing so," she says.
Service dogs for dogs may not go through the same lifelong training as service dogs for people, but they're just as dedicated to helping their companions succeed. It's a privilege to have an animal best friend who can teach us so much about friendship!
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.